Updated: September 26, 2021 by Jennifer Munsell
Do you know your bearded dragon can develop intestinal impaction and die if they accidentally ingest their enclosure’s substrate? If you knew this before, you understand the importance of finding the best substrate for bearded dragons. However, even if you haven’t heard about impaction before, don’t worry, I’ve got you covered!
Impaction is a potentially fatal condition that happens when a bearded dragon accidentally swallows loose substrate that causes intestinal blockage. This usually happens to juvenile dragons, but adult beardies aren’t immune to it, either.
There are many different types of bedding for bearded dragons; some are great, but others are downright lethal. Knowing which ones are good and which ones are bad can be tricky, especially if you are a novice owner. That’s why I’m here to help!
In this article, I’ll review six different substrates that are completely safe for adult beardies and comfortable to live in. Stay with me until the end of this article to find the perfect bedding for your pet reptile.
If you are looking for good bedding for bearded dragons, then I recommend Zoo Med Eco Earth Compressed Coconut Fiber. Highly absorbent and completely natural, this coconut husk bedding soaks waste and odors keeping your pet’s tanks clean. Plus, if ingested, it won’t cause issues with impaction. Ideal for creating a natural-looking setup, this is my go-to choice for my beardie.
Here are the Best Substrates for Bearded Dragons
Whether you are looking for the best, safest loose substrate for bearded dragons or a reptile carpet to set up your beardie’s terrarium, you are in the right place! Below, you will find in-depth reviews of the six safest substrates for bearded dragons. To help you find the perfect bedding for your pet reptile, I’ve also included key features, pros, and cons of each product.
Let’s dig in, shall we?
1. Zoo Med Eco Earth Compressed Coconut Fiber Expandable Reptile Substrate — Best Overall
Made from the husks of coconuts, the Zoo Med Eco Earth Reptile Substrate is available in a form of compressed coconut fiber brick. Each compact brick can create seven to eight liters of loose substrate and is enough to cover a 10 to 15-gallon reptile tank with one-inch depth.
- Made from all-natural coconut husk
- Sold as a compressed brick
Made from compressed coconut fiber, this bearded dragon substrate is ideal if you are looking to create a natural-looking tank setup. Coconut fibers naturally absorb and break down odor and waste products, thus ensuring your reptile’s tank is clean and fresh-smelling.
Since this bedding is compressed in a brick, you’ll need to place it in a bucket, add three to four liters of water, and leave it for 20 to 30 minutes to expand. Once the time is up, wring out any excess moisture and start setting up your beardie’s bedding.
- Eco-friendly and can be safely recycled or composted into gardens or potted plants
- Can be used damp for tropical species or dry for desert species, such are bearded dragons
- Absorbs odors and waste, thus keeping the terrarium clean
- One compressed brick expands to make seven to eight liters of bearded dragon substrate
- Expanding the compressed brick and setting up the substrate takes time. If you are hard-pressed for time, the entire process can be inconvenient.
- Since it’s a loose substrate, the coconut fiber can be messy and difficult to clean off of your floor and the area around your dragon’s tank.
The Zoo Med Eco Earth Compressed Reptile Substrate is the overall best bedding for bearded dragons and is great for natural-looking setups.
2. Zoo Med Premium Repti Bark Natural Fir Reptile Bedding – Runner Up
Made from the bark of fir trees, the Zoo Med Premium Reptile Bedding is an ideal choice if you are looking for all-natural bearded dragon substrate. Highly decorative and stimulating, this bedding can add a tropical feel to your tank and will allow your beardie to dig and burrow.
- Made from 100% natural fir bark
Besides being hygroscopic, meaning that it absorbs moisture and then releases it, creating humidity, this substrate also conducts and evenly distributes heat. If that isn’t enough to impress you, fir bark is also highly absorbent and will pull nasty waste away from your beardie.
The fact that it’s reusable, super easy to clean, and great at odor control makes this substrate a great choice in my book. All you’ll need to do to keep your pet’s tank clean is soak the substrate in hot water every two to three months and voila! You have clean and fresh bedding for your bearded dragon.
- Wasn’t heat-treated, so it has better moisture retention
- The completely natural fir bark is easy to maintain and can be washed in hot water
- Highly stimulating and supports digging and burrowing behavior for enrichment
- Small pieces of bark interlock and prevent live food from burrowing or hiding in the substrate
- Safe for tropical species and desert species
- A few customers reported that there were mites in the bark, though this is extremely rare. To be on the safe side, you might want to consider checking and treating the bark for mites before using it to set up your beardie’s tank.
All in all, the Zoo Med Premium Repti Bark Natural Fir Reptile Bedding is a great choice if you are looking for a highly absorbent and easy to clean substrate for bearded dragons.
3. Zoo Med Eco Earth Loose Coconut Fiber Reptile Substrate — Best Budget
If you like the idea of using coconut fiber to set up your beardie’s tank, then you’ll love everything the Zoo Med Eco Earth Loose Coconut Fiber Reptile Substrate has to offer. Safe for reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates, this loose bedding is a great option if you are looking to create a naturalistic tank setup for your pet reptile.
- Made from the all-natural husks of coconuts
- Eco-friendly product
- Absorbs waste and odor
Since it is made from the husks of coconuts, this loose substrate can be safely composted or recycled in your garden. Due to its texture, this bedding supports digging and burrowing behavior; you’ll just need to ensure there is enough substrate in the tank for your beardie to burrow and hide in.
Being highly absorbent, this bedding also breaks down waste products and foul odor. To keep your beardie’s tank clean and smelling fresh, spot clean it as needed, and replace the entire substrate every six months at a minimum.
- Highly decorative and easy to set up
- Easy to maintain and spot clean
- It absorbs waste and foul odors, keeping them away from your reptile pet
- Made from an eco-friendly and renewable resource
- Can be delivered dry and be extremely dusty, which can be problematic for baby juvenile bearded dragons’ fragile lungs.
Overall, the Zoo Med Eco Earth Coconut Fiber is the best loose substrate for bearded dragons if you are on a tight budget and are looking for safe and attractive bedding for adult beardies.
4. Zilla Terrarium Liner
Whether you own an adult or juvenile bearded dragon, you can’t go wrong choosing this Zilla Terrarium Liner. Available in green and brown colors, this reptile carpet can be cut to size and fits in almost any type of tank. Unlike loose substrates, this carpet can’t be accidentally swallowed, which makes it one of the safest beddings for beardies on the market.
- Treated with a biodegradable enzyme
- Measures 11.75” x 47.5”
- Made from recycled materials
Setting up and decorating your beardie’s terrarium can be as simple as rolling out this carpet. Depending on the size of your tank, you might need to trim the liner, but cutting it to size is really a piece of cake!
While odor buildup is a common issue with reptile carpets, that won’t be an issue in this case. You see, this carpet is treated with a biodegradable enzyme that breaks down and reduces nasty odors. So, as long as you are spot cleaning and picking up your beardie’s poop, you don’t have to worry about odor buildup.
Maintaining and cleaning this reptile mat is also very easy and won’t take much of your free time. The only thing you need to do is rinse the liner using cold water and set it aside to dry.
- Absorbent and non-abrasive material is easy to walk on and won’t snag your reptile’s claws
- Can be cut to size and fits easily into various types of terrariums
- Easy to maintain and clean using cold water
- Treated with a biodegradable enzyme that reduces odors
- Safe for adult and juvenile bearded dragons since it can’t be ingested
- A few owners reported their beardies claws got caught in the carpet, but this can be avoided if you trim your pet’s nails regularly
Overall, the Zilla Terrarium Liner is one of the safest substrates for bearded dragons and is a great choice if you have a baby or juvenile beardie.
5. Exo Terra Coco Husk Tropical Terrarium Reptile Substrate
Made from compressed coconut husks, the Exo Terra Reptile Substrate is an amazing choice for natural tank setups. Highly absorbent and 100% natural, this substrate encourages digging and burrowing behaviors and will provide a perfect cover for your beardie. It is especially great for lining gravid female dragons’ digging and laying boxes.
- Made from a sustainable resource
- Heat treated and triple washed
- Naturally hygroscopic
Naturally highly absorbent, this substrate is low in dust and when used dry can absorb waste and water. The coconut husk has been heat-treated and triple washed to remove salts and other contaminants, making it perfectly safe for pet reptiles.
Coconut fiber stimulates natural digging and burrowing behavior, thus encouraging your beardie to act as they would in the wild. Being highly absorbent, this bedding is easy to spot clean and maintain even if you are short on time.
- Encourages digging and burrowing behavior
- Can be used for tropical and dry species
- Absorbs waste and odors keeping the terrarium clean and odorless
- 100% natural and made from sustainable resources
- A few owners noted that this substrate is very dusty and messy to set up
Overall, the Exo Terra Coco Husk Reptile Substrate is a good choice if you are looking for completely natural bedding for bearded dragons that supports burrowing.
6. Zilla Ground English Walnut Shell Reptile Bedding
Made from ground English walnut shells, the Zilla Reptile Bedding is an ideal choice for adult bearded dragons. This all-natural shell-based substrate is a more attractive and safer alternative to sand and can help you recreate that desert-like environment in your tank.
- Made from 100% natural English walnut shells
- Excellent heat conductor
- Made in the USA
Ground to a uniform size, this completely natural bearded dragon bedding is amazing at retaining heat and can recreate an ideal arid desert environment. To encourage your beardie to dig and burrow in their tank, the bedding should be at least one to two inches deep.
The fact that this substrate keeps odors at bay and clumps like cat litter makes it easy to scoop and ensures your pet’s tanks will always be clean.
- The best and safest way to create a desert looking enclosure without using sand
- Absorbs odors and waste, creating clumps that are easy to clean
- Encourages digging and burrowing behavior
- Completely natural and can be composted with yard waste
- Can cause impaction in juvenile bearded dragons if ingested; thus, it’s recommended only for adult beardies
Overall, the Zilla Ground English Walnut Shell Reptile Bedding is completely safe for adult bearded dragons and can help you create a mini desert in your tank.
Things to Consider When Buying Bearded Dragon Substrate
Although there are many different types of substrates for bearded dragons, choosing the right one for your pet might be harder than it seems.
Finding the best substrate for bearded dragons comes down to personal preference, the size of your beardie, and the amount of time you have to keep their enclosure clean. Keeping that in mind, here are a few things you should consider when shopping for bearded dragon bedding:
As always, your pet’s safety comes first and should be your main concern when choosing a substrate. For the sake of your beardie’s health and wellbeing, make sure the substrate doesn’t contain any harmful dyes or toxic chemicals. Your best bet is to pick an all-natural and eco-friendly substrate that won’t irritate your pet in any way.
Additionally, to avoid impaction, choose substrates that are more finely ground with no large or hard pieces. Always keep your beardie’s food dish clean and free of stray pieces of loose substrate.
Reptile Mat or Loose Substrate
One of the first things you’ll have to do is decide whether to buy loose substrate or go with a reptile carpet. While loose bedding is closer to your pet’s natural habitat and will allow them to dig and burrow, it does sometimes pose a risk of impaction. Loose substrates aren’t recommended for juvenile bearded dragons, since they are more likely to swallow them and become impacted.
Reptile carpets, on the other hand, are much safer for young dragons and are suitable for adults, too. They can also be cut to size and used for almost any type of tank. The only downside of reptile mats is that claws can get caught in them; however, you can trim your dragon’s nails every few weeks to avoid this issue.
Ease of Cleaning
This is a matter of personal preference, and it comes down to how much time and energy you are willing to spend on cleaning your beardie’s tank. For the most part, reptile carpets are easier to clean and can be washed with tap water before being left to dry and returned to the tank.
When it comes to loose bedding, you’ll need to scoop and remove solid waste regularly to prevent odors from building up. Also, depending on how many reptiles you have and the type of substrate you are using, you’ll also need to remove and replace everything every couple of months to keep the tank clean.
Bearded dragons originate from the arid deserts of Australia, and they are used to humidity levels between 20-40%. Anything above 50% is too high and unsuitable for a bearded dragon to live in, as too much humidity can cause respiratory issues.
Keep this in mind when choosing a substrate for your bearded pet, and pick bedding that will help you control humidity levels within the enclosure.
Replacing the Substrate
Think about how often you want to replace the entire substrate. The more often you have to replace it, the more money you’ll spend in the long run. This, however, holds true only for loose substrates, since reptile mats are washable and can be reused countless times before they have to be replaced.
Last, but definitely not least important, is odor control. Odor buildup can be a problem with many substrates, so if you don’t want to deal with unpleasant smells from your dragon’s tank, this is an important feature to consider. Some types of substrates are treated with biodegradable enzymes that reduce odors, so consider those for more effective odor control.
There are regular expenses involved in taking care of a beardie, and among them is substrate. Price differences may seem miniscule but this adds up when you consider that you’ll have to provide this for the duration of your scaly friend’s lifetime.
FAQs About Bearded Dragon Substrates
What is the best thing to put in the bottom of a bearded dragon tank?
Reptile carpet is generally the best type of substrate to use for a bearded dragon tank regardless of your pet’s age. Unlike loose substrates, reptile carpets can’t be accidentally ingested and cause impaction, which is a potentially life-threatening condition for beardies.
What is the best reptile substrate?
Ultimately, your beardie’s age will determine what is the best type of substrate for them. Loose substrate is a good choice for adult bearded dragons since it recreates their natural habitat and allows them to dig and burrow. When it comes to juvenile beardies, reptile carpets are a much safer and better option since they can’t be accidentally ingested.
Is coconut substrate good for bearded dragons?
Coconut fiber is a good substrate for adult bearded dragons. It is highly absorbent, easy to clean, and helps create a natural-looking environment. Coconut fiber also maintains humidity easily and supports digging and burrowing.
Is sand good bedding for bearded dragons?
Although commonly used as a bearded dragon substrate, sand isn’t a particularly good choice, especially for juvenile bearded dragons. If accidentally ingested, sand can cause intestinal impaction that might even prove fatal if not treated in time.
It’s best to avoid keeping young bearded dragons on sand or any other type of loose substrate, and you should avoid sand altogether regardless of your dragon’s age, as it clumps and causes impaction particularly easily. Plus, it won’t be easily passed by your beardie’s digestive tract like some other, safer, and more biodegradable loose substrates.
What Is the Best Bedding for Bearded Dragons?
There are many different types of bedding for bearded dragons. Some of them are good, but others are downright dangerous. The safety of your pet reptile should be your number one concern when choosing a substrate for their enclosure.
Keeping safety in mind, I found that the Zoo Med Eco Earth Compressed Coconut Fiber is the overall best substrate for bearded dragons. It’s completely natural, non-toxic, and it allows your beardie to dig and burrow.
Since it’s made from compacted coconut fiber, this substrate naturally absorbs waste and odor, thus keeping the enclosure clean and odorless. Whether you want to make your beardie more comfortable, keep their tank clean, or replicate their natural habitat, you can’t go wrong by choosing this reptile substrate.